A partnership for higher ed

Beware the preordained collapse of enterprises labeled “public-private partnerships.” (See the well-intentioned boondoggles of the city of Everett and Port of Everett for illustration.)

Government hankers to emulate the innovation and nimbleness of the private sector. And the private sector very much likes the public sector’s funding.

Where there’s a clear alignment of interests, it can work. The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship is a salient example: Bridge the skills gap by tailoring a scholarship program to benefit middle-and low-income students who have earned Washington high school diplomas and are now studying science, technology, engineering, math or health care at Washington universities.

STEM programs aren’t a panacea, especially in an uncertain and evolving economy. Over the long-term, with the baby boomer bow wave, health care, in particular, will be in high demand.

Brad Smith, the WSOS Board chair and an executive vice president and general counsel for the Microsoft Corp., expressed delight at the state’s willingness to pony up ($30 million so far.)

“This is an investment in a future for our students, our communities, and our state,” Smith said. “STEM fields are where the jobs are. Our partnership with the governor and lawmakers will help students seize these opportunities.”

Gov. Jay Inslee embraced legislation that expands the WSOS governing board and allows the Washington State Investment board to manage private funds. Those private funds are then matched with public funds to provide these scholarships.

“The additional $25 million our state is investing in the WSOS program is a significant step towards meeting employers’ needs for graduates in STEM fields and health care,” Inslee said last month. “We know that local employers are ready to hire qualified WSOS graduates right now. And we know that those graduates will be in line for good, high-paying jobs.”

The WSOS doesn’t translate into full-ride tuition for students. They receive $1,000 for each of their first two years of study towards their degree. Once they secure their STEM or health care major, the program ratchets up the scholarship to $5,000 for each of their junior, senior and 5th year — for a potential total of $17,000.

The WSOS was conceived in 2011, after the Boeing Co. and Microsoft pledged $25 million apiece.

The partnership goes beyond smart: It’s in the public interest to cultivate a highly educated workforce and citizenry.

Now, can we please create a WSOS in the humanities?

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